Ohio State must start focusing on future in order to have success this year (and beyond)

Ohio State Athletics

For the second consecutive season, the Ohio State Buckeyes have exceeded expectations on the hardwood. With that said, the Big Ten season has already proven that the scarlet and gray aren’t as good in 2018-19 as they were in 2017-18, and that’s perfectly understandable. It’s part of the reason Ohio State must start focusing on developing their underclassmen, both by giving them more in-game experience and more opportunities to both learn from their mistakes and successes.

One of just three seniors on the team, graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods was expected to bring both leadership and plenty of production to the Buckeyes this season. After averaging 10.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists while shooting 47.4 percent from the floor and 42.5 percent from beyond the arc in 27.3 minutes per game (93 games, 30 starts) during his first three collegiate years (one at Charlotte, two at Wake Forest), Ohio State had plenty of high expectations for the fifth-year guard. Woods could have potentially been one of the team’s top scorers this season, stepping in for Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, and Kam Williams, along with being a leader and playmaker.

He has been anything but that. Through 25 games (seven starts) this season, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound guard has averaged just 6.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.5 assists while shooting a dismal 39.2 percent from the floor and 28.1 percent from three-point range in 25.8 minutes per game. Almost every single statistic is a career low for the fifth-year senior.

Even throughout Woods’ struggles, Holtmann has still continued to keep him on the floor for more than half the game. While his leadership and experience may be important, his inability to put the ball in the basket is costing Ohio State and is one of the many reasons the Buckeyes’ offense has struggled throughout much of the Big Ten season. Meanwhile, freshman Duane Washington, among others, has consistently shown that he can be a legitimate scorer, yet he has 17.1 minutes a night. In fact, Washington is averaging slightly more points (6.8) in a little less than nine minutes a game. The freshman’s shooting numbers may not be the most efficient currently, but with more experience, those will only improve. It’s one of the many reasons Holtmann has to start playing a player such as Washington more, while Woods sees less time on the floor.

Although he was never meant to be a full-time point guard, C.J. Jackson is having yet another solid season. One of three seniors, he deserves as much playing time as possible, no matter who is sitting behind him. Jackson is much different than Woods, though.

The Buckeyes offense has struggled throughout much of the conference season, especially against the top teams in the league. In their last two games against ranked opponents, Ohio State has totaled just 93 points combined (49 at No. 5 Michigan, 44 at No. 11 Michigan State). While the offense hasn’t necessarily been that bad all season, it has still been pretty bad. The Buckeyes 70.6 points per game is a horrid 217th in the country.

Their 51.7 points per game over their last three games (55 in win at Indiana, 56 in the loss to Illinois, and then the Michigan State game) ranks dead last in Division I in that span. The scarlet and gray have been held below 65 points in seven of their last 11. including not even notching 50 in two of those games. They need an answer offensively and they need it now.

Ohio State’s game in East Lansing this past Sunday was quite an interesting one. They held a 31-25 halftime lead but then went on to score only 13 second-half points. The Buckeyes almost had as many turnovers (11) as points in the final 20 minutes. To make matters worse, the Spartans outscored them, 20-2, in the final 7:40, and those lone two points were both free throws. They shot 4-of-21 from the field and just 1-of-9 from the beyond the arc in the second half. Their 44 points against Michigan State were the lowest since they scored 43 at Wisconsin on December 31, 2009.

Yes, it is (and was) that bad. That’s not going to get the job done against the majority of Division I teams, let alone teams in one of the best conferences in college basketball. It may just be that Ohio State is in quite a funk, but it’s one that they need to get out of sooner rather than later if they want to participate in the madness in March.

Holtmann acknowledged his team’s struggles to put the ball in the basket following Ohio State’s loss at Michigan State on Sunday.

“Certainly it’s been a challenge, but it’s not like we didn’t expect that we were going to have trouble scoring this year. So there was an expectation that that was going to be something,” the head coach said. “I think we’ve got to keep taking good shots. I think you give Michigan State credit, too, for how they defended, particularly in the second half but really throughout the game. I’m confident that we’ll be better offensively, and we’ll make those shots around the rim and on the perimeter that we missed.”

Going into Sunday’s game in East Lansing, the Buckeyes were projected to be a No. 9 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology. While the loss to Michigan State won’t hurt those chances too much, it sure won’t help either. Ohio State still needs a big-time win to add to their resume, especially after suffering a dismal loss to Illinois at home last week, one that the Holtmann’s crew could potentially look back on and only blame themselves if they don’t make The Dance. At 16-9 (6-8 in the Big Ten), the Buckeyes still have plenty of chances to make their case, especially since four of their remaining six games in the regular season are against teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25: at No. 24 Maryland (February 23), vs. No. 21 Iowa (February 26), at No. 15 Purdue (March 2), and vs. No. 22 Wisconsin (March 10), along with must-win games against Northwestern (twice).

The Buckeyes still have a shot to make it into the NCAA Tournament, but right now, Holtmann needs to focus on giving the players who will be on the team next year more opportunities, beginning with more playing time. Maybe, just maybe, that will wake up their offense as well, giving it a new-found boost. With an upperclassman like Woods struggling and underachieving throughout much of the season, that seems even more obvious at this point. If Ohio State can succeed while that happens, it will be even more important heading into next season (and beyond). The Buckeyes have been just fine defensively, it’s just that they need quite a spark and boost in momentum and confidence to get going offensively.

Next year is the year for the scarlet and gray. They weren’t supposed to be contenders in the conference neither last season or this one and have outplayed expectations, especially during the Holtmann’s first year in Columbus. With a loaded recruiting class coming in next season, along with plenty of talent and experience returning as well, it’s a perfect combination. Now, it’s just putting all the right pieces together, something that Holtmann has already proven that he can do. It’s just that some younger players need to play more this season in order to maximize their potential as early in their college career as possible.